Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Congressional Squeeze Play

I don't think I've ever seen a power grab praised so highly in the New York Times as this conservative plan to cut off pay for Congress.

WASHINGTON — In principle, it sounds self-sacrificing, even noble: Congress swears off collecting its paychecks until it passes a budget.
But behind the proposal, which the House passed last week when it voted to temporarily extend the debt limit, is also a basic reality: many of those who support the concept are so wealthy that their Congressional paychecks represent little more than a rounding error...
“One thing I’ve never called for is an outright reduction in salary, because I do appreciate that members come from different walks of life,” Mr. Rigell said. But as imperfect a solution as withholding pay might be, he said the concept was sound. “I am convinced that is a big enough lever to influence the institution,” he said, “and it needs it.”
Mr. Rigell can't be much more plainspoken on this one. He believes that "the institution" of Congress will be more likely to reach a deal on the budget if members are being pressed by "a big enough lever."
But this doesn't seem like a big lever for the people proposing the bill. It only seems like a big lever for people on the other end of the income spectrum in Congress. The rich will 
As moneyed as Congress is these days, some members would feel the pinch if they stopped receiving their paychecks. Senator Jeff Flake, Republican of Arizona, has a reported net worth of no higher than $300,000, making him one of the few nonmillionaires to support the bill. That also makes him the fifth-poorest member of the Senate, according to thefigures from the Center for Responsive Politics...
As many ordinary Americans have struggled to get by in recent years, members of Congress were largely insulated from the economic downturn, based on their net worth. The median net worth of American households is $66,740, while for the 535 members of Congress it is about $966,000, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Congressional lawmakers earn at least $174,000 a year.
The poorest person who supports this bill has a net worth comparable to the assets of five average American families. This bill is seeking leverage over those who won't be as comfortable without their steady pay check.

In the House, more than a few members have an estimated net worth that is a negative figure, meaning their financial liabilities are greater than their assets.
If you have a mortgage payment coming up that's a might big lever. It may even be a big enough lever that the wealthy conservatives think they'll get a few members to vote against their consciences and their constituents' interests. Apparently the conservatives who proposed this plan believe that by virtue of their wealth, they should have leverage over the rest of Congress, and certainly the segment of Congress that has more in common with their districts.
By the way, how many is 'more than a few'? 69 members of the house have a net worth less than the average family. 34 have a $0 or negative net worth. Whether the bills are from a mortgage a care for an aging or sick relative, they are coming for these members.
I haven't looked at the individual districts, but it's an easy assumption that the poorest members of Congress represent the poorest constituents.
Republicans and their wealthy sympathizers believe they own the government. They're trying to lock the middle class out of negotiations. It's a dramatic end-run around the democratic process. We may be able to send middle class representatives to Congress, but they won't get paid for their work unless they work for the wealthy.
And [Jerold Nadler, Democrat of New York] said he was concerned about the precedent it would set. “If you want only millionaires to be in Congress,” he said, “this is a good idea.